IRAN’S attempt at preventive revolution from the top has been spurred by both external and internal crises. The Iraqi revolt of 1958 served as a poignant warning of the ease with which monarchies can be abolished. The 1960 coup in Turkey, which eliminated a regime too far out of step with the social and political pattern set by Ataturk, provided another warning for Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.
Within Iran severe inflation, along with exorbitant increases in living costs, has created a genuine economic crisis. Insistent demands for pay raises by long-suffering teachers and civil servants have come at a time when the treasury is empty. Finally, a shift in American policy toward creditor countries, with the Kennedy Administration’s decision that aid will go to those helping themselves, has had a particular impact in Iran.
The first result of all these pressures has been an unprecedented effort to stabilize Iran’s economy and to ease political tensions. The gradualist approach, under which the Shah and a few technicians have been steering Iran toward economic development without disturbing the existing hierarchical pattern of power, is being altered. NonCommunist government opposition, principally represented by a coalition of leftists and intellectuals in the National Front, is being consulted. All of this reflects a recognition by the Shah, and evidently by army leadership, that the rising middle class in Iran cannot be ignored. Such progress as has taken place in the country since World War II has given more people a taste of amenities, of education, and of the possibilities for decent living in their potentially rich country.
The event which forced the Shah to act last spring was the revolt of teachers throughout the country. The Shah’s reaction was not to employ the customary repressive measures, but to recognize the gathering power behind this revolt. In turning to Dr. Ali Amini, a former ambassador to Washington, a political independent, and an outspoken critic of Iran’s last two discredited elections, the Shah made clear his intention to compromise with the left at the expense of the right. Dr. Amini is a man who has been opposed to the old guard in Iranian affairs, who is known to favor reforms at its expense, and who demonstrated particular acumen in the negotiations which ended the Iranian oil dispute and set up Iranian control over the industry eight years ago. His appointment as Premier signaled a crucial decision by the Shah to speed up and try to control the recasting of the Iranian economic and social system before more violent attacks on it occur.
In a country as divided as Iran, such a decision involves great risks. Watching the race between planning and drift, between education and catastrophe, has been something of a spectator sport for Iran’s extraordinarily rich and powerful elite. But for the 85 per cent who form the tribal and peasant population, the race has scarcely existed. The upper class comprises less than 5 per cent of the population, owns 95 per cent of the arable land, and has for years, except during the Mossadegh regime, controlled the Majlis. Merely eking out a living and trying to survive in disease-ridden villages have totally preoccupied the peasant majority. Of the several million nomadic tribesmen, most speak only local dialects, and few are concerned with a remote and ungenerous capital in Teheran.
The authority of the central government has yet to be established firmly, therefore, even though new roads, water pipes and electricity, being extended to some provinces under the development plan, have begun to make the government’s good intentions felt.
Teaching: profession or hobby?
Additional landmarks of progress toward modernizing and unifying Iran are new schoolhouses and universities scattered about the country. In the last seven years, five new universities have been established, at Tabriz, Shiraz, Meshed, Ahwaz, and Isfahan. At the same time, nearly half of Iran’s three million children are in primary schools; a quarter of a million are in secondary schools; and some 7000 are in vocational schools. Yet, of 40,000 elementary-school teachers, only a fourth are trained. Some get inservice training during the summers; some are subsidized during training. But none can make a living as teachers. Their minimum wage is $40 a month. The average wage for a faculty member at Teheran University is $123, and the highest salary is $232, from which arc deducted income, health, and education taxes. The result is that teachers must take outside jobs in order to live.
One particularly enterprising pedagogue, the former chancellor of Shiraz University, was discovered to have twelve outside jobs. His services were terminated by Iran’s tough new Minister of Education, Mr. Derakshish, whose leadership of the teachers’ march on the Majlis last spring resulted in his appointment to the reform cabinet. Derakshish has decreed that in exchange for promised pay raises, teachers shall make teaching their first concern.
The Western education craze
Another difficulty in Iranian higher education is the traditional reverence for foreign degrees and for seniority, which causes promotions to be made arbitrarily rather than on a basis of ability. The craze for Western education has led the government to spend $30 million a year educating some 15,000 students abroad. In the general austerity effort now under way, this program is being sharply cut.
A chronic problem has arisen as a result of so much Western education of young Iranians. On their return home, they are usually disoriented for life in Iran, and the problem is compounded by the lack of jobs open to them. Many returned graduates, therefore, respond to the subversive suggestion of the Tudeh Communist Party that they can win appropriate recognition only in a Communist Iran. One of the present government’s more urgent tasks will be to try to win back many of these youths.
In scattering new universities about the country, the idea has been to remove them from the political atmosphere of Teheran and to relate them to the professional needs of the provinces. At Ahwaz, for example, in the oil province of Khuzestan, an agricultural college is being established, to be administered by the Near East Foundation, an American private agency with long experience in Iran. At Shiraz, where a medical school already exists, with some American staff members and Iran foundation support, an agricultural and a scientific school have been added. The new regime will have to speed up this educational program, recruit more teachers, revitalize local education offices, and clear out many corrupt officials who have managed to make personal fortunes out of school buildings and equipment.
Much has been written about the Shah’s land distribution program, which has been under way for the last ten years. About 300 villages and adjacent lands have been distributed to 35,000 families during this period. The peasants pay for the land in twenty-five yearly installments, which go into a land bank to furnish them with credit for seeds, tools, and marketing assistance. Without such a device to provide the services traditionally performed by the landlords, no land-transfer program can work. Iran’s new Minister of Agriculture, Hassan Arsanjani, is determined that such facilities shall be provided and that land reform shall be speeded up. A 1959 land law limits irrigated farms to a thousand acres and unwatered ones to two thousand acres. As in so many other aspects of Iranian life, such a law means nothing unless private landowners accept it.
Early in the days of the new government there were reports that ten leading owners were willing to follow the Shah’s example and start distribution of their lands. The actual transfers remain to be made. II they are made, it will mark a significant turning point in Iranian affairs. For, in Iran, as in Egypt, land ownership has denoted power and prestige. A reduction in such power and its effective transfer have yet to be accomplished painlessly.
Agriculture, rather than oil, is the key to progress in Iran. For this reason, most of the development plan program is directed toward building roads in rural areas, educating farmers, developing irrigated lands, and setting up industries related to farming, such as sugar mills. Of Iran’s $300-million-a-year oil income, at present nearly half goes into long-range planning.
One of the most important works is in Khuzestan, under the management of Resources and Development Corporation, headed by Dr. Gordon Clapp and Dr. David Lilienthal. Water management in Khuzestan comprises a series of dams, water diversions, roads, irrigation projects, and power plants designed to open up this potentially rich province and to locate in it diversified industries, such as petrochemical plants, related to oil production. Important employment possibilities will follow this construction and help to take the pressure for jobs off the oil centers.
The present government realizes that there must be more visible signs of progress, such as roads, schools, and hospitals. Yet it faces a critical shortage of funds. In this situation it looks to two sources for help. One is the oil consortium, which runs a major share of Iran’s oil industry for the National Iranian Oil Company. The other is the U.S. government.
Sharing the oil profits
New pressures have been put on the consortium this past year to increase production and to rewrite the contract under which Iran receives half of consortium profits. The Shah wants Iran to be the largest oil producer in the Middle East; he wants a larger share of income; and he wants “partnership” with the consortium. Presumably, this means shares in it along with the group of Western companies which control it. Two newer agreements, with the Italians and with an independent American syndicate, are based on a theoretical 75-25 per cent sharing of profits. But these stipulate, as the consortium agreement does not, that Iranian capital shall go into the partnership ventures. Nevertheless, the partnership idea seems more politically palatable than the present consortium arrangement.
In periods of increasing oil discoveries and consequent glut, prices for oil have gone down. At one stage, in 1959, they went down eighteen cents a barrel without warning. To Iran, this meant that revenue from oil that year suddenly shrank by $27 million, at a time when the national budget for the year had just been passed. No amount of explanation of the laws of supply and demand appeases the sense of injury such episodes cause. What has resulted is the organization of oil-producing states in the area, along with Venezuela, into a consultative body which is trying to make an agreed policy for the group.
The U.S. government’s aid to Iran has mounted to nearly a billion and a half dollars since World War II. Of this amount, half a billion has been for military assistance, and the rest has consisted of loans, technical assistance, and emergency grants. Yet all of this has not stabilized the country, as it was intended to do. Iran’s continued membership in the Central Treaty Organization with Turkey and Pakistan is again under political attack. There is widespread resentment at the S180 million a year of Iranian funds devoted to defense and security, and demands for a return to Iran’s classic policy of neutrality between East and West are insistent.
Meanwhile, in Washington there is dissatisfaction over the failure of the combined efforts of U.S. assistance missions and Iranian ministries to accomplish stated objectives with the large funds spent. For this reason, new requests from Teheran are receiving sharp scrutiny.
In Teheran an effort is being made to qualify for further loans by enforcing new austerity measures. Foreign travel by Iranians is being drastically reduced. Imports of luxury goods are banned. Government expenses are being reduced, and tax collection is once more being reorganized. At the same time, an effort is being made to reduce the cost of necessities as a way of relieving pressures on the middle class.
The difficulty for Iran is that such heroic measures conflict with ingrained predatory habits and with the customs and attitudes of the aristocracy, which, so far, is the only element capable of bringing off a peaceful revolution in Iran. The question is whether the upper class in Iran is sufficiently frightened, or convinced of the lateness of the hour, to make preventive revolution possible.